Federal authorities warned Friday that the list of churches published by the Islamic State (ISIS) to attack on “Christian New Year” is a legitimate threat to holiday gatherings.
ISIS sympathizers “continue aspirational calls for attacks on holiday gatherings, including targeting churches,” warned a bulletin published jointly by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. It was issued to law enforcement agencies and private security firms around the U.S., encouraging them to heighten awareness.
Nevertheless, U.S. law enforcement officials said there are no specific, credible threats. Instead, the bulletin was issued out of an abundance of caution given the public nature of the posted threats and the crowded gatherings expected during this holiday season.
The bulletin follows reports of a publicly available list of churches published on a pro-ISIS social media app. The federal warning also described various signs of suspicious activity law enforcement should be aware of.
A user by the name of “Abu Marya al-Iraqi” posted a message in Arabic calling “for bloody celebrations in the Christian New Year,” announcing the group’s plans to utilize its network of lone-wolf attackers to “turn the Christian New Year into a bloody horror movie.”
The ISIS messenger’s reference to “Christian New Year” is unclear. It could be referring to New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, when the new year is celebrated in the West.
Yet the call for attacks on churches seems to fit better with a religious holiday, such as Christmas. In the liturgical calendar, the Christian New Year is the first Sunday in Advent (November 27), a date which had already passed by the time of the message. Since Advent is leading up to Christmas, the terrorists might have meant December 25th as “Christian New Year.”
This would make the most sense, since churches tend to be packed for midnight masses on Christmas Eve and for Christmas Day services.
On Friday, police in Australia announced that they had detained five men suspected of planning a series of Christmas Day bomb attacks throughout the city of Melbourne.
The suspects, reportedly inspired by ISIS, planned attacks on Melbourne’s Flinders Street train station, neighboring Federation Square and St. Paul’s Cathedral, according to Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton.
PJ Media reported last month on an ISIS threat video targeting the train station and the cathedral.
While five of the Australian suspects are still being held, two of the seven initially arrested during the raids Thursday night and Friday morning were released without being charged.
Five men between the ages of 21 and 26 remained in custody and were to be charged later on Friday with preparing a terrorist attack. Police would not identify them but said four were born in Australia and the fifth was Egyptian-born with joint Australian and Egyptian citizenship.
The foiling of the Australian threat is heartening, but Americans should be vigilant during this Christmas season.